The streets are quiet—everything has fallen silent under the gravity of the situation. The Avengers are stuck around the city, ensnarled in traps.
Thor is encased in a block of solid ice, frozen in an enraged pose, hammer held high. Hawkeye is tangled in live electrical wire. Bruce was gassed. Sam overwhelmed. Natasha unconscious on the pavement.
“Finally,” Thanos announces, hand held aloft. In his open palm rests the infinity stones, set within the Vibranium tube designed by SHIELD to protect the universe from their insurmountable power, able to be held without unleashing their combined might onto the nearest person. “Finally,” Thanos repeats, “the power to decimate worlds—to rain down hellfire—to crush my enemies—it’s mine!”
“Tony,” Captain America rasps, barely conscious. Tony’s armour is mostly destroyed, leaving the genius useless inside the warped metal cage. He looks back at Steve with wide, desperate eyes.
“Do not even think about trying, Captain,” Thanos says. “He has long since been rendered useless, much like yourself.”
To the watching, terrified crowds, Thanos booms, “Your Avengers are defeated. You are defenceless! This puny planet, your puny heroes, is no match! I am victorious—”
A lone figure swings across the street, a blur of red and blue limbs, and extends a hand to snatch the infinity stones out of Thano’s open palm with ease. “Yoink!”
Spider-Man doesn’t slow, continuing the fast arch of his swing, and disappears around a corner.
Thanos stares at his now empty palm. “What…” he begins dumbly. He seems to realise what exactly has just happened, and his face flushes an even darker purple in rage. “Who DARES—?!”
“What?” Captain America says from his collapsed position on the ground, smirking despite his serious injuries. “Did you think the Avengers were Earth’s only heroes?”
Thanos roars, and follows Spider-Man deeper into the city.
“‘Scuse me, ‘scuse me, ‘scuse me!” Spider-Man says as he weaves between the highway of cars, swinging to avoid deadly collisions. “Trying to lose universally renown super-villains! Possible doom day device, coming through!”
Thanos doesn’t know this city. Spider-Man does; he lives and breathes it, relies on knowing the position of each rising skyscraper to avoid falling to his death. Thanos may have alien technology and a confidence that rivals even Stark’s, but here, Earth’s heroes have the home advantage.
Spidey swings away from the highway of cars, and manages to escape down several streets before Thanos catches up with him.
“You cannot run from me!” Thanos shouts.
“Good point,” Spidey concedes. He spins in midair, and throws the tube of infinity stones like a baton. “NOVA, THINK FAST!”
Nova flies past and catches the tube before zooming off in the opposite direction, a stream of bright blue light tailing his flight. Thanos shrieks in rage, and Spidey jumps safely away.
Thanos catches up to Nova some minutes later. Nova swerves and flies vertically up the line of a building. When he reaches the top, emerging out of the tops of buildings like one might the canopy of trees in a jungle, he shouts, “STORM, GO!”
Johnny Storm catches the infinity stones, and zooms up and over Thanos’ head, laughing the entire way. Again, Thanos shrieks and races in pursuit.
From the ground, Tony squints at Thanos and the young heroes the villain is chasing through the city. “Are they…” Tony begins.
Steve, being lifted onto a gurney by starstruck paramedics, laughs a little. “Leading the man who almost destroyed the Earth in a wild goose chase?” In the sky, Johnny Storm sticks his tongue out at Thanos, ducking and weaving out of the villain’s grasp. “Yeah. I think they are.”
The youngest paramedic turns wide eyes on the lead Avenger. “Can you sign my shirt, Mr. Captain America?”
“His arm’s broken,” scolds the other paramedic. The youngest looks forlornly at the Avenger’s mangled arm.
“Sorry,” Steve says, then pauses, scrutinising the younger man. “Hey, can you grab my comm? It rolled over there.” Steve points, and the man races over the rubble, desperate to carry out the hero’s wishes. He returns with the still-intact comm. “Thank you,” Steve tells him. He fiddles with the comm, puts it in his ear as he’s lead into the ambulance. “This is Captain America. Requesting back-up.”
Spider-Man had kick started a plan of epic proportions. No one had announced such a plan beforehand, but it had unfolded none-the-less. Heroes flocked to join the makeshift game of Keep Away.
Daredevil had been quick to join the procession of fleeing heroes, with Spider-Man and Nova and Human Torch looping back to join in for a second round.
Once unfrozen, Thor made a mighty contender in the unofficial game. He seemed enthused by the ingenuity of Midgardians, zooming around the city with the stones and belly-deep laughter.
(“Even humans on the far off Xandar,” Thor will say later as a gaggle of heroes convene on a cracked footpath, “are known for their unique techniques in battle. Even I have heard tell of the human who saved the Galaxy with a hip thrusting dance off.”
From Thor’s side, ice pack held to his blooming black eye, Hawkeye squints at the demigod and announces, “I think Thor has a concussion.” )
Deadpool steals a golf kart and steers it haphazardly with one hand, the other hand thrust into the air, clasping the row of infinity stones. Both the kart’s radio and Deadpool himself screams the entire way. Thanos looks more confused than angry, at that.
“POKEMON, I CHOOSE YOU!” screams the mercenary, before throwing the tube with all his might. Falcon swoops down and catches it mere inches from the asphalt.
After Falcon, it’s Angel that flies away with the stones. His broad white wings against the backdrop of New York’s dawning sun announces the arrival of the X-Men.
As night fades into day, the rotation of superheroes begins to dwindle. All of them are positioned around the city, tagging in and out of the game, but there are still gaps, places where heroes are left cornered. In the absence of immediate superhero presence, civilians begin to sub themselves in.
Thanos catches Daredevil around the ankle some time after 9am. The vigilante is sent careening against solid concrete, the tube of stones tumbling out of his grip. Thanos, exhausted both mentally and physically, beams hugely.
“Finally,” Thanos says, “this silly fiasco can be put to rest.”
A man in a business suit, sweaty hair curling around his ears, darts forward, and picks up the stones, and bolts away. Both Thanos and Daredevil gape at the tiny human.
“FOGGY?” Dardevil screeches, as Thanos chases after the man.
“I IMMEDIATELY REGRET THIS DECISION,” Foggy shouts, legs pumping as fast as he can manage.
Thanos reaches a hand down to scoop up the lawyer, but before his fingers can make contact, Foggy and the bundle of stones are snatched up.
“You okay there, Foggy?” Spider-Man asks as they dart away. Foggy clings to his shoulders.
“Not really,” Foggy admits. His voice is pitched high and breathy. “There’s been too many end of the world scenarios and almost-murdered best friends for me to really be comfortable. How about you?”
“I’m ready to be done with all this,” Spidey answers. He deposits the older man safely on a nearby rooftop, swinging away with the infinity stones. Thanos gives chase after the vigilante.
Spidey swings further into the city, into a different suburb. He lands on an open street and crouches behind a trio of scientists. He hands the stones to Dr. Strange. Behind him, Tony Stark, resplendent in new, un-cracked armour, and a haggard Bruce Banner pored over a newly built machine.
In one end of the device, the infinity stones are safely contained. On the other, Tony twists a lever and purple smoke pours forth, rolling over the street like a wave crashing onto the beach, covering the buildings in a hazy smog.
The face plate of Tony’s armour slides into place. Dr. Strange pulls Bruce and Spidey closer to him, and encompasses the pair in a pink bubble, closed off from the poisonous air.
“The civilians—” Spidey begins.
“The area has been evacuated,” Tony says in a tinny voice. “While you and the other flying show-offs have been paying pass-the-parcel with Thanos, Cap’s been directing the flow of all land-bound heroes and civilians and scientists from a hospital bed.”
“Team work,” Bruce says with a soft smile. “One thing Thanos won’t truly expect.”
Dr. Strange glances their way. His hands are steady, glowing slightly with exerted magic. His eyes glint in the morning sun. “Alone, we don’t stand a chance against Thanos,” he says, “but together? Together we can protect each other and this Earth.”
“Aw, shucks,” Spidey says, pretending to swipe away non-existent tears from his googled eyes. “That’s so touching! After this, we all should all have a group hug.”
“You can try,” Tony says. “Wolverine’s here, though. You remember what happened last time you tried to pull him into a group hug.” He laughs as Spidey winces.
Their chatter is cut off as Thanos rumbles down the street, visibly brimming with rage. “ENOUGH,” he roars. “Give me the stones.”
From the safety of the bubble, Spidey calls, “Why don’t you come over here and get them?”
Thanos growls, takes several steps forward, and promptly collapses into a pile of large, purple limbs.
Bruce twists another nozzle on the machine, and the purple smoke is sucked back into the machine, leaving behind relatively clean, breathable city air. Dr. Strange drops the bubble and Tony’s visor flips up.
“Is he unconscious?” Spidey wonders. “Or like… dead?”
“Who cares,” Tony says flippantly. He chatters into his comm as he walks over to Thanos, alerting SHIELD, and telling Cap of their success.
Soon after, heroes begin to land around the street, notified of Thanos' defeat through their comms or the echoing sound of the villain’s bulk collapsing to the street.
Falcon shares a smile with Spidey as he lands and slumps against a lamppost, exhausted. Further down the road, the X-Men gather together, talking amongst themselves and peering curiously at Thanos’ prone form. Deadpool whizzes in on his golf kart, leaving skid marks on the asphalt, whooping at the sight of the Thanos.
Daredevil doesn’t show up, but Spidey knows where he will be; a suburb over, on a high-up rooftop, checking over his friend for injuries.
Johnny lands next to Spidey. His hair is a mess, blood smudging his suit from where he’d been thrown, but he smiles and nudges the vigilante’s shoulder with his own. “Brilliant work last night, webs.”
“Brilliantly stupid,” counters Falcon with a grin.
They end up in different rooms later that afternoon—the Avengers pile into Steve’s hospital room with stacks of pizza and cans of beer. The X-Men retreat, the Fantastic Four reconvene with their youngest member. Daredevil returns to his apartment to be patched up by Foggy and an angry Karen. Spider-Man returns to the arms of his worried Aunt. SHIELD agents swarm over Thanos and the stones.
New York City plays looping footage of dozens of superheroes rushing about the city, baiting a universally acknowledged villain and coming out victorious. They know that, should trouble come calling once more, their heroes will band together again.
And despite the Avengers' initial loss, that night the world sleeps safer under the combined umbrella of the heroes’ protection.